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Fancy Dress

Fancy Dress

This fantastic ‘photo was taken by Natasha at Coffee Rings Everywhere. When I saw it, I mentioned how intriguing that hat was. What was it doing there? Natasha challenged me to write a story about the ‘photo. This is the story that ‘photo inspired. Thanks, Natasha :-)


Anish would have known him anywhere, even though it had been ten years. He’d had no idea that Vinay was back in Hyderabad, and that was going to be a problem. A big problem. Anish had stayed completely out of trouble for a long time now. His parents had even found someone for him. Baruni was a legal aide, and really pretty, too. They’d seen each other a few times and found they had a lot in common. There was a very good chance this marriage would happen, and would work out. And now this! Hopefully, Vinay wouldn’t look out of the costume shop window and notice him.

Too late! Vinay raised his hand in greeting and in two steps, was out the door of the shop, holding a green hat. ‘Now, this is the sort of coincidence you only read about in books,’ he said, with that heartless smile of his. He twirled the hat a little in his hand and added, ‘I was just getting this for my little cousin, who’s going to a fancy dress party next week. And who should I see right here? It’s a lucky day for me.’

‘How are you, Vinay?’ Anish asked. As though he had any choice but to talk to this man.
‘I’ve only just come back to Hyderabad, so I am still getting settled. I hear you’re doing very well, though. Nice job in a bank, and I’m told you are getting married, too.’
‘Well, it hasn’t all been arranged yet.’
‘But I’m sure it’ll all go very well for you. I hope you won’t forget your old friend Vinay when you have that nice big house and a new car.’

This was exactly what Anish had been afraid of. Vinay was the only one who knew what had happened ten years ago. Even then he hadn’t been trustworthy, and he certainly wouldn’t be now. He might as well find out what Vinay wanted. Not to take his hint would be worse.
‘Of course I won’t forget you,’ he said.
‘That’s good. Because I could use your help.’
Here it came. ‘With what?’
‘Let’s go find a place to have a coffee and we’ll discuss it.’

Ten minutes later, Anish decided there’d been enough small talk. ‘So what sort of help do you need?’ he asked.
Vinay took a sip of his coffee and looked over the rim of his cup. ‘Nothing much. It’s just I could use a friend in the banking business. Someone who could help me make some financial arrangements.’

Anish knew where this would be headed. He’d heard lots of stories about such ‘arrangements,’ which amounted to embezzlement and money-laundering. Not being naïve, he knew that it went on, and probably more often than most people guessed. But he didn’t want to be a part of it. ‘I don’t know, Vinay,’ he said. ‘I come up for promotion next month. Any questions about my work, and there won’t be a chance of it.’
Vinay kept his gaze on Anish. ‘Do you think there will be a promotion if anyone finds out about that road accident?’
Anish lowered his voice. ‘I wasn’t even driving that night! None of it was my fault.’
‘But Indra’s not alive any more to admit that he was driving. So who can say exactly what happened?’
‘You know I did not kill that girl. I was a passenger. We both were.’
‘Will that matter to – what is her name? – Baruni and her family? Or to your bank? The minute anyone finds out you were there, you’ll be finished.’

The two young men were quiet for a moment. Vinay finished his coffee, a look of quiet triumph on his face. Anish finally said, ‘I will have to think about this. Give me a week.’
‘Fair enough. But I think you’ll agree it’s a good arrangement for both of us.’
Anish nodded and they stood up to go. Vinay reached behind him to pick up the hat as they left. Just outside the coffee bar, Anish said, ‘I will remember what you said. No reason we can’t make some sort of agreement.’
Vinay nodded. ‘I thought you might see it that way.’
‘Let’s forget all this for now. There’s a bread shop down that street. They make wonderful stuff. I’m going to just get a few things. You should come along.’
‘Why not?’ Vinay matched his stride to Anish’s and they turned down the narrow street.

As they did, Anish glanced quickly around; there was nobody there. That made sense, since it was getting too hot to be out and about. He let Vinay get two steps ahead of him, then picked up a heavy rock he’d seen on the ground. ‘I’m sorry, Vinay,’ he murmured as he struck him in the head. Vinay fell instantly, and the hat he’d been holding rolled back into the street they’d just left. His cousin would have to find something else to wear to the fancy-dress party.

‘Did you see that?’ Rathi hissed, tugging at her sister’s sleeve.
‘What?’ Kaira asked, with an annoyed expression. She was eager to get home for lunch.
‘Look!’ Rathi pointed. The two sisters watched as the man in the narrow lane dropped the rock and ran.
‘What’s going on?’ Ganika asked. Rathi and Kaira had been her best friends for as long as she could remember. Rathi said nothing, just pointed again.
‘That’s a dead man!’ Ganika gasped.
Now Kaira was afraid. ‘We need to go! Now!’
‘We’ll have to tell mummy,’ Rathi insisted.
‘We will. We need to tell the police, too.’
‘Do you think they’ll listen to us?’
‘We saw him. Of course they will. Come on!’

The three girls turned to rush home. Then Ganika noticed something on the ground and stopped. Her friends didn’t even bother to turn around and look at the hat lying in the street.


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It’s a Private Matter ;-)

PI QuizThe number of fictional private detectives is really staggering. They really are everywhere, and have been for a long time. It really has me thinking of…

…a quiz! I don’t want to hear it! It’s hardly my fault if you’re careless around this blog, is it? ;-)

Private investigators have been a staple of crime fiction for a long time. And as a dedicated crime fiction fan, you know all of your fictional PI characters, don’t you? Or do you? Take this handy quiz and find out. Match each question to the correct answer, and see how well you do.

Ready? Pick up the magnifying glass to begin…if you dare ;-)




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In The Spotlight: Sarah R. Shaber’s Simon Said

SpotlightHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. There’s something intriguing about an old, long-buried crime that can be very appealing. When that crime is connected to modern-day events, the appeal can be even greater. Let’s take a closer look at a crime novel that uses that plot point and turn today’s spotlight on Sarah R. Shaber’s Simon Said, the first of her Professor Simon Shaw mysteries.

Shaw is a Pulitzer prize winning historian who could have had his choice of academic employers. He’s chosen Kenan College, in North Carolina, because he prefers a quiet life and, honestly, couldn’t imagine living anywhere but in the American South, where he was born and raised. Life changes dramatically for him when Sergeant Otis Gates of the Raleigh Police Department asks for his help with a strange case. Archaeologist David Morgan (who is a friend of Shaw’s) has been excavating the centuries-old Bloodworth property, part of which has been deeded to Kenan College. In the process, he’s discovered a long-buried body, and the police want Shaw’s help to determine who it might be.

With a limited staff and budget, Gates doesn’t have clearance to pursue an investigation as old as this one with all of his resources. Still, he’s interested, and he knows that Shaw is an expert on Southern history in general and is thoroughly familiar with the history of the Bloodworth family. So he and prosecuting attorney Julia McGloughlan are hoping that Shaw can assist them.

Shaw is, of course, very interested indeed, so despite some reluctance to identify the remains (he’s not accustomed to dead bodies), he agrees to see what he can do. It doesn’t take long for him to identify the remains as belonging to nineteen-year-old Anne Bloodworth, who disappeared in 1926. Records of the time indicate that a massive search was conducted, but she was never found. Now it’s clear that someone shot her in the back of the head and hid the body.

Shaw begins to dig a little deeper into the case, but it’s soon clear that someone in the present day does not want him to get answers. Bit by bit though, and despite two attempts on his life, Shaw finally puts the pieces of the puzzle together. And with Gates’ help, he’s able to find out who is so determined to keep the truth about Anne Bloodworth’s death a secret.

Because of Shaw’s profession, he pursues this investigation as any historian would, using historians’ tools. He consults records of the time, uses primary sources and in other ways treats this as if it were a research investigation. So readers get the chance to see how historians go about their work. That said, though, Shaw is also interested in the human side of this case. Anne Bloodworth was a real person, with a real life and death. And it’s that aspect of the whole thing that keeps him most intrigued.

Shaw is also an academician with a position at a demanding and reputable institution. So there’s also plenty of academic context. Shaw works with students, attends faculty meetings and the like. There’s a look, too, at the sometimes-vicious politics of academia. For example, in one plot thread, Shaw is embroiled in a departmental conflict when he assigns a poor senior thesis grade to Bobby Hinton. As it happens, Hinton is the prize student of Shaw’s rival Alex Andrus, and Andrus decides to use the occasion to cause as much trouble as he can for Shaw. And there’s a scene in which Shaw encounters Rufus Young, the college’s public-relations officer. Here is Young’s reaction to the discovery of the body:

‘Thank you, God…My secretary came running into my office, yelling about a dead woman. I thought a student had been murdered. Aged me twenty years right then. But’s it’s just an old corpse – really old…Thank goodness I had enough time to explain everything to the TV people before they slapped it on the noon news…Let me know if there’s a human-interest angle to this. We could send out a press release.’

These things do happen in real life, and readers interested in what can go on behind the scenes in US institutions will be pleased.

The story is told from Shaw’s perspective (‘though not in the first person), so we learn quite a bit about his character. He’s happy to live and work in the South, but his mother’s family is from New York City, and that’s left its mark on him, too. He’s recovering from divorce after his wife Tessa left him, so he’s had a difficult time. In fact, as the story begins, he’s just returning to a more or less regular work schedule. In some ways, he’s fragile, but he’s not the stereotypical demon-haunted sleuth who can’t interact functionally. In fact, as the story evolves he and Julia McGloughlin develop an interest in each other.

The story takes place in the American South, and Shaber makes that clear. Southern lifestyle and culture are woven into the story. Summer starts at the end of May and gets very hot and humid. And there’s the food:

‘..the buffet…was loaded with the perennial foods of southern social functions – shrimp, ham biscuits, chicken salad, baked Brie and chutney, fresh strawberries to dip in chocolate, and pecan tartlets.’

This isn’t ‘Southern noir,’ nor is it really a light, ‘frothy’ mystery. It is a distinctly Southern academic mystery, you might say. Although the story isn’t ‘frothy,’ it’s also not overly bleak. And readers who dislike a lot of brutal violence will be pleased that the violence in this novel isn’t gory.

There is suspense in the novel, but readers who prefer a thriller-like pace and lots of danger will notice that there’s really not much of that here. Rather, the story unfolds as the truth about Anne Bloodworth becomes clear. And part of the suspense is what you might call academic suspense; it comes from Shaw’s search for answers about the long-ago crime.

The solution to Ann Bloodworth’s murder is very sad; and, although Shaw has a certain amount of intellectual satisfaction from knowing the truth, it’s clear that it doesn’t make things any better. And the other half of the mystery – who is trying to kill Shaw and why – isn’t really light and happy, either. Still, the story does have hope. Shaw, for instance, starts to pick up his life and re-enter the world. And it’s clear that life at Kenan will go on.

Simon Said is a distinctly Southern academic mystery that connects a long-ago murder with current happenings. It features a professor who really wants some peace and quiet, and who gets anything but that; and it offers a look at a contemporary college department. But what’s your view? Have you read Simon Said? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday 29 June/Tuesday 30 June – Call For the Dead – John le Carré

Monday 6 July/Tuesday 7 July – The Cry – Helen Fitzgerald

Monday 13 July/Tuesday 14 July – The Intruder – Håkan Östlundh



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Everybody Had a Good Time*

Petrona RememberedA year ago, Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan came up with a wonderful plan. His idea was that we could create a body of reviews of terrific crime novels, and pay tribute to the late, and much-missed, Maxine Clarke at the same time.

What Bill had in mind was that each month, a crime fiction blogger would provide a review that would go up simultaneously on that blogger’s site and at Petrona Remembered, the crime fiction site set up in Maxine’s memory. The reviews would be of books we’d read during the year that we would recommend to Maxine.

So how did the year go? I’m delighted to report that during the last twelve months, there’ve been eleven excellent book reviews of fine crime fiction that I’m sure Maxine would have liked. To all of you who took part in this – thank you. It means more than you know that you took the time to make this happen.

So what happens now? Well, here’s the rest of Bill’s plan. We can keep this collection of book reviews going, and make sure it stays dynamic. If each of you who contributed a review last year is willing to do so again this year, we’ll have a whole new year of great book reviews to look forward to reading. And we’ll have the chance to talk about books that perhaps weren’t released last year.

How will it work? If you’ll be willing to send in a review for the same month this year that you did last year, we’re well on our way. For example, I contributed my review in August of last year, and I intend to do so again this August. If you contributed a review last year, but don’t remember which month, no worries – I have a handy spreadsheet that has all of that information. If you contributed a review last year, but want a different month this year, also fine. We can work things out. If you didn’t contribute a review last year, but want to be a part of it this year, that’s wonderful! We’d love to have you!

I truly hope you’ll consider keeping this crime-fictional fire burning. Here’s how:

  • Check the excellent blog Petrona Remembered. There you’ll see your own review, if you contributed one, and others’ reviews, so you’ll have a sense of what we’ve been doing. You can also check the ‘About’ page to find out a little more about Maxine if you didn’t have the privilege of getting to know her.

  • Decide whether you are willing and able to commit to a review this year during the same month you did last year (if you contributed), or during a month that particularly works for you (If you weren’t at the party last year but want to come along this year).

  • Send me an email (margotkinberg (at) gmail (dot) com), confirming the month you’d like. I’ll get right back to you about it.

  • Get your review ready during ‘your’ month and send it to me. I’ll take it from there.


See? Easy as!

Thanks again to all who participated last year, and let’s hope this will be another great year!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling.


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Blondes Have More Fun

BlondesHaveMoreFunAt twelve-thirty, Sara went to the salon’s reception lounge. There was Crystal, punctual as ever. Sara liked her for that. Lots of clients thought you had all the time in the world. But Crystal always treated Sara like a professional.
‘Are you ready, Crystal?’ Sara asked as she walked into the room.
‘Hi, Sara! Sure am,’ Crystal said with a wide smile.

When she’d gotten Crystal settled into the large, black, leather styling chair, Sara said, ‘OK, let’s talk about your hair.’
‘I think I want something really different this time.’
‘What’d you have in mind?’
Crystal grinned conspiratorially. ‘I want to go blonde. I mean platinum blonde. My brows, too.’
Sara nodded slowly, and stepped back a moment. She tilted her head slightly to one side and narrowed her eyes a little. ‘You want me to be honest?’
‘Of course.’
‘I don’t know that it would work well on you. Your eyes and skin tone would go much better with maybe a lighter shade of brunette, or even auburn. Platinum’s too cool. You’re better off with a warmer shade.’
With just a hint of edge to her voice, Crystal said, ‘Thanks, Sara. But I really want to go platinum. You can do that, can’t you?’
Sara got the hint. ‘Of course, we’ll do whatever you want. Just give me a couple of minutes to get everything ready, and I’ll be right back.’
‘Thanks.’ Crystal’s smile returned and she relaxed a little. This was all going to work out beautifully. Screw Brad and his opinion! She could handle this job. All she had to do was use the new ID to open that account. Then the money’d be perfectly safe. One of these days she’d have to put Brad in his place.

Sara finished putting everything she’d need on a tray. Poor Crystal! The only reason a pretty woman like that went blonde was if her husband was cheating on her. At least that had been Sara’s experience. Well, it wasn’t going to make a difference if the guy was that much of a snake, but if that’s what Crystal wanted, maybe it would make her happy for a little while. She shrugged, picked up the tray and went back to where Crystal was waiting for her.

Two hours later, she was done. Crystal looked at herself in the mirror and laughed with pleasure. ‘This is fantastic, Sara!’
‘Thanks,’ Sara said, not quite able to hide how happy the compliment had made her feel.
‘Let me pay you, and then I’ll be out of your way.’ Crystal fumbled in her bag, accidentally dropping her wallet on the floor. The wallet burst open, and Sara quickly reached down to pick it up. That’s when she saw the ID. She looked at the ID, then she looked at Crystal. Her mouth opened slightly as she looked at the ID again.
‘What – what’s this about?’ she asked.
‘I really wish you hadn’t seen that,’ Crystal said slowly. ‘I really do. It’s going to make everything more difficult.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m sorry, Sara. I like you. But there’s nothing else I can do.’

Ten minutes later, Crystal walked out of the salon as calmly as she could. She wasn’t happy about what had happened, but she’d had no choice. At least she’d remembered to wipe off the shears before she left. And as busy as the place was, it would be a while before anyone noticed what had happened. Besides, if anyone saw her leaving, they saw a blonde, not a brunette.

After a quick stop in a public restroom to put in the blue-tinted contact lenses, the next stop was First Citizens Bank. Brad had given her the name of a banking officer he knew there, who wouldn’t ask a lot of questions or put a lot of obstacles in her way. She walked into the lobby, left her name and settled down to wait. A few minutes later a tall man with salt-and-pepper hair and rimless eyeglasses came towards her.
‘Monica Blevins?’ he asked.
‘Yes, that’s me,’ she said, rising to her feet.
‘Nice to meet you. I’m Trent Carlow.’ They shook hands and Carlow ushered her into his office. After they were seated, he asked, ‘Now, how can I help you?’
‘Well, I’d like to open an account.’

Trent smiled to himself as he watched Monica. Brad hadn’t told him he knew her, so this was an extra bonus. Trent had been waiting for this ever since Monica and her loverboy had screwed him out of fifty thousand dollars. This was going to be good.
‘Do you remember me, Monica?’ he asked softly.
‘Remember you? No.’ She shook her head. ‘Should I?’
‘Doesn’t matter. I remember you. You and Petey took me for fifty thousand. I haven’t forgotten.’
She’d seen the look in his eyes. ‘Wait,’ she said, looking down. ‘I don’t know anyone named Petey. I’m here because I heard that there wouldn’t be too much hassle opening an account. You have the wrong person.’
‘I don’t think so. Your license says Monica Blevins. You look like her too.’ He got up and was around to her side of the desk before she knew what was happening. He grabbed her arm and said, ‘Come on. We’re going to have a private conversation.’
‘But I’m not Monica! I’m not even a blonde! My name’s –’
‘Shut up!’ he hissed. ‘I don’t give a damn what you call yourself. I know who you are.’ Her arm still in his grip, she didn’t have any choice as she felt herself lifted to her feet.

Brad glanced at the time displayed on his telephone. No question, Crystal had been to the bank by now. That had been a neat trick, he thought to himself, getting an ID in the name of Monica Blevins. When Petey told him what happened with Trent, how he and Monica had worked it, Brad was sure he’d found a good way to deal with Crystal. Trent had been waiting to meet up with Petey’s girl again. An ID switch and Crystal wouldn’t be a problem for Brad any more. In a way, he was sorry. She’d been useful. But that’s what happened when you got too ambitious. Brad didn’t need anyone coming up behind him like that.


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